Notable New BooksJan 1, 2003
Fire On The Waters
by David Poyer
Fire On The Waters opens in early 1861, just before hostilities breakout between southern secessionists and Union loyalists. Elisha (Eli) Eaker, an unlikely hero with a delicate constitution and congested lungs, is betrothed to his cousin Araminta, with whom he has lived since childhood. The match has been arranged by Eli's domineering father, Micah, a wealthy New York businessman whose world is peopled with notable New York nobs like famed newspaper man Horace Greeley. Micah Eaker has little faith in his son's abilities: "We both know you're a good-for-nothing beetlehead, agreed? Agreed?"
Eli meekly responds: "Yes sir. You're right. I'm sorry - " ... cough, cough, cough!
Determined Eli volunteers for Navy duty to become free of his authoritarian father. The sickly lad wins a spot on the steam-sloop USS Owanee (the Navy is desperate to replace officers who have fled to their southern homes), and he is quickly introduced to the realities of life at sea during wartime.
The prose is occasionally overly descriptive and is upholstered with Latin dictums and obscure references to Greek mythology. But the patient reader will be well rewarded as the story's pace, like Owanee‘s often troublesome boilers, picks up steam, and the reader becomes ever more sympathetic to Eli's character and curious how this pampered, consumptive weenie will ever survive a night at sea, let alone carve out a career in the United States Navy.
Overall, the novel is a carefully constructed bit of historical fiction by a meticulous author who spins a compelling yarn of the little-known Civil War at sea.
Simon and Schuster, New York; 445 pages; $25.00.